Democrats are in the process of trying to shovel $80 billion more dollars to the IRS, doubling the number of its “enforcers.” They claim it will squeeze an even greater “fair share” from “the rich” than the highly disproportionate share they now pay and promise that it will benefit all Americans with a lower deficit (something than seemingly never occurred to them when they were burning hundreds of billions of dollars in waste and fraud) and lower inflation.
Beyond the highly implausible amount in new government revenue being claimed and even more implausible claim it will lower inflation, there are plenty of reasons suspect the gambit.
Rather than hitting billionaires, necessary for the “it won’t cost you a cent” story line being sold, Congress has already reported that “78% to 90% of the money raised from under-reported income would likely come from those making less than $200,000 per year.”
Little is earmarked to improve the performance of what Steven Greenhut calls “the nation’s heavy handed, incompetent and scandal-plagued tax-collection agency.” For instance, I submitted my 2021 taxes in February and still have not been able to confirm that it has been received by the IRS, much less processed, but with essentially no money for better technology to ease filing issues, reduce delays and errors, or even to get more than a small fraction of calls answered or improve the accuracy of their answers if you can actually reach a person, this big IRS “reform” looks a lot like Ambrose Bierce’s definition:
“A thing that mostly satisfies reformers opposed to reformation.”
In contrast, mountains of money are being made available for enforcement.
There are also many other examples that demonstrate that giving money and power to the IRS is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys, to paraphrase P.J. O’Rourke.
But what has struck me the most is how this new and improved example of siccing the IRS on Americans and their liberties rather than efficiently and fairly doing its job was recognized over six decades ago for what it was, in Frank Chodorov’s 1954 “The Income Tax: Root of all Evil.” Given the magnitude of the additional impositions on citizens being contemplated, it is worth considering some of his insights into the enforcement process that could soon balloon.
The American Revolution … [established] a government based on a new and untried principle, namely, that the government has no power except what the governed have granted it … in 1913, when the government was invested with the power to confiscate private property … this power … put into the hands of the American government a means of liquidating the sovereignty of the citizenry.
Before 1913 … No candidate for Congress could offer his constituents gifts paid for by the citizens of other states … political jobbery was correspondingly limited in scope. When the government acquired this power of confiscating the national wealth, the corruption was limited only by the amount that expediency would permit.
The Sixteenth Amendment has widened the area of government power, and as a consequence has reduced the area of liberty.
The Constitution … barred the income tax. The Founding Fathers … had come by freedom the hard way and they meant to hold on to it.
The Sixteenth Amendment … has spawned another police department, another means of forcing the citizen into line.
The Internal Revenue Bureau quite sensibly takes the view that every one of us is a potential lawbreaker … it must make use of … espionage, deception, and force.
The income tax, by attacking the dignity of the individual at the very base, has led to … perjury, fraud, deception, and bribery.
The inevitable consequence … is the use of income taxation to undermine the principles of republican government and to make a mockery of our tradition of freedom.
The Internal Revenue Bureau is a self-operating inquisitorial body. It has the means of harassing, intimidating, and crushing the citizen who falls into its disfavor … Therefore, whenever the Bureau has reason to ‘get’ somebody it has ample means at its disposal.
This is what the late Sen. Schall of Minnesota had to say … ‘The one glaring governmental agency that constitutes a menace to the citizens is the Income Tax Bureau, which often goes outside the constitutional limitations and frequently harasses citizens by unjust exactions and by the oppressive conduct of its agents … it even dares to attack the citizens … without substantial pretext or cause. The bureau is inquisitorial … Its forces swarm over the country … Agents, spies and snoopers annoy and plague the citizens … [it] permits and promotes, if it does not direct, a species of blackmail against the American citizen.’
There have been cases … where citizens who have offended the party in power were suddenly visited by agents of the Bureau and subjected to interrogation and examination. Of course … there is no proof that the citizens’ views prompted these special investigations. It cannot be proved that the purpose was to silence opposition. But the practice is so well known that men … have scrupulously avoided involvement in movements critical of the administration, even though privately they are in sympathy with such movements.
If individuals persist in trying to circumvent the political establishment … or if they preach doctrines inimical to the interest of the ruling group, then … freedom of thought must be suppressed.
The IRS’ power to abuse citizen’s on behalf of those in power in Washington is being proposed yet again, marketed as a silk purse rather than a sow’s ear. But it shows no concern with advancing Americans’ “General Welfare,” which the Constitution states is our government’s purpose. It shows that if, as Oliver Wendell Holmes put it, “taxes are the price we pay for civilized society,” what we are looking at today is piracy preying on civilized society, not taxes that enable it. We must remember that, as Chodorov put it:
The general welfare is not improved by the increasing load of taxation. On the contrary, the upward climb of civilization is retarded in exact proportion to the levies.
Gary M. Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University.